The Difference Between Jail & Prison

For the most part, people tend to use the words “jail” and “prison” interchangeably. In common parlance, either word is good enough to describe a place where people who were convicted of a crime spend time as incarcerated people.

Most of us get through our lives not really giving much thought to how we use these words, but did you know that jails and prisons really are different types of facilities? The main difference between them is who they hold: Jails typically house people convicted of misdemeanors, whereas prisons house those convicted of felonies. Texas also has something called a state jail, which we’ll get into later.

For now, keep reading to learn more about how jails and prisons are different from each other.

What Are Jails for in Texas?

When someone says “jail,” you probably think about a smaller facility somewhere in town, maybe even next to the county courthouse. That’s not an inaccurate picture of what a lot of jails are like in Texas, where there’s a county jail for all but two of its 254 counties.

If you are in a county jail, it’s probably for one of two reasons: You were convicted of a misdemeanor and sentenced to less than a year of incarceration, or you are an innocent person awaiting trial. If you are in the latter situation, it’s probably because you were denied bail or unable to make bail.

Compared to prisons, jails are smaller and lack many of the amenities and freedoms that may be available to people incarcerated in prisons.

What Are Prisons for in Texas?

As we previously mentioned, prisons house those who were convicted of felonies. A felony is a more serious crime than a misdemeanor, and a conviction requires a sentence of at least one year.

Prisons are operated by the state or federal government, and people go to either depending on whether the state or federal government had jurisdiction to prosecute them. Overall, prisons are much larger facilities than jails and tend to have much greater security measures. Populations are typically divided only according to the security threat level assessed of each individual.

Although no one would say prison is a pleasant place to be, it can offer services and amenities that county jails lack. These include larger outdoor yards for exercise and education or job-training programs.

What Is a State Jail in Texas?

State jails are facilities that bridge the gap between county jails and prisons. They are minimum-security prisons that typically only house inmates convicted of non-violent crimes. Such offenses are often referred to as “state jail felonies” and are similar if not indistinguishable from a fourth degree felony.

Whereas county jails house inmates for up to a year and prisons house inmates for more than a year, state jails in Texas house inmates for up to two years.

It’s Always Preferable to Avoid Jail & Prison

While it’s good to know the real differences between jail and prison, it’s even better to avoid a stay in either of them. Our attorneys at Rodriguez & Gimbert, P.L.L.C. can help you mitigate your responsibility for criminal charges against you, which can help you avoid penalties involving incarceration.

Learn more about what our attorneys can do for you during a consultation. Contact us online to request one today!

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